Food waste along the supply chain in the EU is estimated at approximately 88 million tonnes, and is expected to rise to about 126 million tonnes a year by 2020 unless action is taken (European Commission). Households generate the largest share (53%), followed by agriculture/food processing (19%), food services/catering (12%), primary production (11%) and retail/wholesale (5%) (EU FUSIONS project, 2016). Managing food efficiently is of paramount importance, since food waste has a substantial environmental and economic impact, and raises important social and ethical considerations.
In July 2014, the European Commission put forward an initial circular economy package. However, in March 2015 the legislative proposal on waste included in that package was withdrawn, making way for a more ambitious proposal that covers the whole of the circular economy. In December 2015 the Commission presented an action plan for the circular economy and four legislative proposals tackling, among others, food waste. In December 2017 the European Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement on the proposals in trilogue, which is to be submitted for a vote in plenary in spring 2018. Several stakeholders commented on the proposals, which have received some criticism for the absence of a specific targets on bio-waste and food waste, with a coalition of NGOs calling for the re-introduction of an EU-specific food waste reduction target of at least 30%.
The issue of food waste is a complex one, with multiple factors contributing to its generation along the entire supply chain. At the household level, food waste is caused, among others, by excessive retail promotions and inadequate shopping and meal planning, as well as by a common misunderstanding about the meaning of "best before" and "use by" date labels, which causes a large amount of edible food to be thrown away. At food service/catering level, it is linked to bad practices such as the use of standardised portions and to the inability to foresee future workload and manage stocks accordingly. At retail level, one important driver of food waste is the scarce propensity of customers to buy “ugly” products. Finally, overproduction, defects in packaging and tight food cosmetic standards, are important causes of food waste at primary production and food processing level, while inadequate storage and transport conditions are a problem at all stages of the supply chain.
With the outcome of the legislative procedure on the Circular Economy Package to be expected in the following months, this timely symposium will provide an invaluable opportunity for industry experts, policy makers, academics, NGOs and other key stakeholders to review the EU strategy on food waste and discuss behavioural, social and technological solutions aimed at promoting improved food waste management. The symposium will allow delegates to assess the current challenges to the transition towards increased efficiency along the food supply chain, consider ways to overcome them, set future priorities and share best practice and initiatives from across Europe.